October 15, 2008

A Serious Question

Some of you have signed up for recurring donations to help me pay for the dispatches I publish on this Web site. I'm working for you, and I need to consult you about something. I'm going back to Baghdad in a month or so and I need to figure out the best way to spend my working hours between now and then.

There are still a few dispatches that I haven't yet written from my recent trip to the Balkans. I went to the Balkans because I've been personally interested in the region for a long time and because I needed a break from the Middle East, but reader interest in the region seems to be lower than mine. I could write those remaining dispatches from Kosovo and publish them even though they're a bit less exciting than those from a place like Baghdad or Russian-occupied Georgia.

Alternately, I could spend the next month working on the book I've finally started to write. The working title is From Beirut to Baghdad, and it's a first-person narrative eye-witness account of revolution, terrorism, and war in Lebanon and Iraq. I don't have a publisher yet, but I do have an agent, and the book will be written and published one way or another – even if I have to self-publish it. So far I have finished one chapter out of ten. If I spent the next month working almost exclusively on the book, I can easily finish two or three more chapters.

So: how would you rather me spend my time during the next month? Should I put my nose to the grindstone and finish as much of the book as possible? Or should I write my remaining dispatches at the same time and make some, but less, progress on the book? The book won't be finished until late spring at the earliest, so I don't want to mislead you into thinking I can finish it before Thanksgiving if I take the month “off.”

If I do take the month “off” to work on the book, I'll still put content on this Web site. The blog won't go dark. I just won't have any epic length dispatches to publish until December or so.

Let me know. I work for you and will do what you prefer.

How should I spend the next month?
Publish your remaining dispatches and make a modest amount of progress on your book.
Set the dispatches aside and make a massive amount of progress on your book as long as you don't neglect the blog entirely.
Free polls from Pollhost.com
Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 15, 2008 1:53 PM

Well, I'm quite interested in those remaining dispatches from Kosovo. The Balkans are a very interesting region and there are few people reporting about the situation there now. Your dispatches about the Balkans, the Caucasus our Lebanon make me want to travel and see those places myself. I don't have that when you write about Baghdad :-)

Posted by: Tijl Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 2:19 PM

I hear ya, Tijl.

The upside (for you) if I spend more time on the book right now is that I'm writing a huge amount of material about Lebanon that no one has ever read before. I spent a lot of time there and didn't write about everything that I could have written about. A lot of that material is going into the book and will be published there for the first time.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 2:29 PM

I would really love to have a physical book to show/lend to friends and acquaintances. A nice, dead-tree tome to your name would increase your stature to many people who might otherwise dismiss “internet writers” like you. Yes, you could just blow those prissy people off (and that's what I often feel like doing), but I enjoy your writing and I think others would as well. I think a solid book would give you greater visibility (and “substance”, branding-wise), so you can reach more of those potential readers.

(I've been reading your stuff for a year and a half now, but this is the first time I've commented.)

Posted by: Wes Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 2:36 PM

Michael -

I have spent time in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Balkans and enjoy your blog very much. I hope you will spend the next month working on your book. I look forward to attending your book signing when it swings through Colorado!

Posted by: Rob Fairbank Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 2:40 PM

Michael as a Lebanese I feel intrigued to know what you have in mind about my country. But there is part of me that is always asking for more of your vivid stories (especially about the Balkans). I guess I could only wish you the best.

Posted by: Kdouh Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 2:51 PM

Michael, if I had my druthers and time were not an issue, I'd personally like to see something in your book about your time in Turkey. I was based in Çorlu, Turkey, an artillery center training the Turkish Army and truly thought that time was the best part of my service in the USA; July, 1958 to April, 1959.

If money were not an issue too, I'd like to go back and see that part of Thracian, Turkey. Çorlu then was a smallish village and now is a major urban center of over 140,000. Is Turkey remaining secular or is it becoming another Mid-Eastern theocratic country?

You writing is great and provides very knowledgeable insights in the countries you write about.

Posted by: BHRC Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 3:14 PM

curious how many people voting are subscribers?

I am, and I voted for you to put your nose to the grindstone and work on the book.

FYI: I visited Lebanon from April 13th until May 2nd of this year. It was the most amazing 3 weeks of my life and I can not wait to return again for another visit. I appreciate all your wrote about it and your encouragement to visit.

Posted by: David Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 4:01 PM

Have to admit that the Balkans are not of special interest to me. Were this a "Balkan" blog I wouldn't read it (no reflection on your writing, only on the subject).


Posted by: rsnyder Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 5:07 PM

Michael, so far I have found that you do excellent work wherever you happen to go. I found your Balkan articles truly eye-opening. I also hate to be given an either-or about articles or book (sorry, I guess I'm just wishy-washy). It seems to me that you actually are looking for support to turn your attention to your book, so I suggest that you do that. However, before you do that, I would also suggest that you look over all your Kosovo material, as well as any related Balkan material (even Caucasus material for that matter) and see if there is one theme you want to write to summarize the most important idea or observation or insight you have had over the past few months of travel outside the mideast. Finish that article to put to bed the last remaining ideas floating around in your head. Then go do the book with a clear mind and all of our blessings. You see, this way I get it both ways and don't need to choose one or the other!

Posted by: Steve BC Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 5:17 PM


I think latter would be the best for you even though I'd prefer former.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 5:46 PM

David: I visited Lebanon from April 13th until May 2nd of this year. It was the most amazing 3 weeks of my life and I can not wait to return again for another visit.

I'm glad you went. Where did you go and what did you see?

I love Lebanon, but it hurts me. There is so much beauty, and so much darkness, in that land.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 7:48 PM

David I am glad you loved Lebanon. Michael regarding your comment about the Darkness, I guess it is more of political Darkness. Man if it came to us (the people) we would live in harmony just the same way we did 50 years ago.

Posted by: Kdouh Author Profile Page at October 15, 2008 9:43 PM

Michael, I won't presume to make your decision for you, but ask yourself if, by putting off your Balkan writing, you will lose anything that you won't be able to get back completely a year or two from now. I'm in the media biz, and no matter how good my written notes are, if I wait too long to make use of them, my memory goes all to hell and I lose important details.

Posted by: Gene Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 9:53 AM

The Balkans and the breakaway Republics receive very little serious press coverage, and I believe that conditions in that region will again be of great interest when the Russian fortunes improve, and they return to their offensive game and their policy of expansionism. With the crash in oil prices, its stock market and banking sectors in ruin, Russia's plans for regional dominance are on now on hold. This will change in due course. You know that.

When this happens, I believe that having a complete suite of current reports on the Balkans published on line will bring favorable attention to yourself when reporters and their editors are again scrambling to find background stories on the region, your reports will definitely be read by the movers and shakers in the business, giving you an opportunity to shape opinion, enhance your "creds", and stand out from the pack.

So, I would suggest that you get it all out of the way now, and knock out the remaining Balkan material, get it published on line, and then move on to your next big project.

This could also be of some benefit down the line when you go to sell your book project to the publishing houses.

Best of luck in whatever you decide to do, and thanks for the great reporting.

Posted by: mcmill1599 Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 12:18 PM


I agree with Gene and mcmill1599, strike while your memory is fresh. I was not terribly interested in the Balkins until I started reading your blog, since then I have started reading articles and histories on the subject.

Do what yo think is best; however, you are educating more folks than you know. Incidently, I look forward to reading your book.

Posted by: Chris in Tulsa Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 12:30 PM

I've enjoyed everything you've written, and would certainly welcome any more insights you can offer on the Balkans. However, I'm a firm believer in taking care of the goose that lays the golden eggs. If the book will enhance your long-term viability then by all means focus there first. Certainly, if you write it, I will buy it.

Posted by: thomstrat Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 3:01 PM

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed your dispatches from the Caucasus/Eastern Europe and they made me want to visit Azerbaijan, Kosovo, Macedonia and Georgia much more than I had wanted to previously. Which is saying a lot. Speaking as someone who has been struggling to write a book of his own for the past, oh, 5 years (!), I say hunker down and finish it; especially if you're able to find a month to devote to knocking out a significant chunk. Honestly, you're Lebanese writings have been a favorite of mine and an integral part of my pre-visit reading before heading there this coming spring (wars pending). Collected in book form, you're stories from Lebanon/Iraq would go a long way to getting you the criminally elusive exposure this site needs. I think we'd all be the better for it.

Posted by: George Awad Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 6:09 PM

You are the best judge of your time. I value your work and support you in your choice, I would like to hear about the Balkins as I know almost nothing about the area, but your book may be more important to you-and us. This trhread reminds me to send you some more money,

Best wishes,

Posted by: Steamboat Jack Author Profile Page at October 16, 2008 8:06 PM

The Wizard of Oz would say, in comparing you to other famous writers:
"Why, there are dozens of famous and successful writers who get paid well and are comfortable and can barely get out a coherent sentence, much less describe facts in gripping, page-burning detail like you. They've got no skills you haven't got.
But they do have one thing you don't have.
A published book."

Please publish your book, ASAP. It's already a year late. A shorter book would have been a blockbuster if published before the end of the US primaries, especially as it would have been nominally non-partisan.

I estimate you've cut your sales by 50% (# copies) in being a year later, plus another 10-30% because of the economic downturn.

It will still be adding hugely to your MainStream credibility, and your talk show attractiveness, and book signing appearances & mini-stories.

Thought balloon: my wife uses cassette tapes in translating from Slovak to English for me to type/ correct. You might consider having a tape recorder to think out loud, quickly, about many of the articles you have in mind, but without polishing them now. Just get them orally on tape quickly, before the recent impressions are overwritten, while mostly working on the book.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at October 17, 2008 6:56 AM

PS. Even your books will, at best, be collections of verbal snapshots which become dated. (perhaps with a few pictures, too! Plus maybe a more complete Flikr page??? with book references?)

Your book will be extremely valuable when published, but will also be valuable in the future as recent history.
You could almost certainly do a series of short books, one every year or so, that each increase the credibility of all. Especially as you refer to changes, and possible guesses of yours that failed or succeeded.

It's not like marriage (just once), it's more like kids, except that almost all the work is before birth. (We have 4, and they're still a handful).

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at October 17, 2008 7:23 AM

I was talking to a publisher/editor who was thinking of leaving her day-to-day life behind and traveling around the world. I asked her if she'd think of writing articles to pay her way. She was thinking about doing that, but she said 'one thing I've learned in the industry - to establish yourself as an authority on a subject, and as a writer, you have to write a book'

Apparently, the fact that you've gone through the process of writing/editing/publishing a book is as important as the content. It's a credential that leads to more recognition, like writing a doctoral thesis or publishing the results of scientific research.

Since non-partisan independent journalism needs more recognition, I'd vote for the book

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at October 17, 2008 2:20 PM

FYI. 3000 Marines are leaving Anwar. Few more month and Iraq will be left unattended. :)

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at October 17, 2008 6:26 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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